Alain de Botton told the Guardian: “pornography, like alcohol and drugs, weakens our ability to endure the kinds of suffering that are necessary for us to direct our lives properly. In particular, it reduces our capacity to tolerate those two ambiguous goods, anxiety and boredom….The entire internet is in a sense pornographic, it is a deliverer of constant excitement which we have no innate capacity to resist, a system which leads us down paths many of which have nothing to do with our real needs.”
Recently a few children caught trawling the seedier sites of the net have been claiming an addiction to porn. One young boy is on a sex offenders register having accidentally downloaded paedophilia. It has to be acknowledged de Botton’s vision of a pornography with: “concerns which a reasonably sensible, moral, kind and ambitious person might have” is one way to dissuade a child from clicking. Or anybody for that matter, ‘Doing the tax return’ is not going to provide the escape sought after in porn.
Whilst I am sceptical about any child being addicted to porn, it is clear that from the late 1990s onwards porn has crept into our culture and tweaked our expectations. The site UniLad often publishes (or published) by boys traumatised, like teen Ruskins, by the presence of pubic hair on their conquest. For them porn is not a fantasy, it is a measure.
There is a passage (oh great, now everything I write on this subject is going to be double entendre-able to the max) in Zadie Smith’s homage to Howards End (YOU SEE?) On Beauty where the middle aged Howard Belsey sleeps with 18 year old Victoria. Belsey notes Victoria’s impatience and it is very clear she is simply going through the motions, not seeking pleasure, she won’t even allow him to touch her without her stomach held in. In comparison Belsey’s menopausal wife Kiki allows herself to be stroked and worshipped in a later sex scene. The difference is that by 2005 (when On Beauty was published) it was very likely an 18 year old’s first experience of sex was pornographic images or online snippets. A year before Jenna Jameson’s memoir How to Make Love Like a Porn Star had flown off the shelves.
As Caitlin Moran wrote in How To Be a Woman there is a market out there for porn that concentrates on both (or all) people present clearly having a good time. Alain de Botton’s vision of porn as something that doesn’t “force us to make such a stark choice between sex and virtue - a pornography in which sexual desire would be invited to support, rather than to undermine, our higher values” reflects Moran’s suspicion people would like to see porn based more on desire than, “this bizarre, mechanised, factory-farmed f**king”.
I am a mature person; I agree that the dynamics of porn should change because it is not going away any time soon. So why does de Botton’s hope that porn will begin to crack out scenarios: “in which people were being witty, for instance, or showing kindness, or working hard or being clever” make me giggle?